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"Rick Emerson Blog"

Morgan and I have a few friends in common, and I've seen her play guitar with Kleveland once or twice. That being said, I knew (or perhaps know) precious little about her. So it's without explanation that her name popped into my head this weekend while I was searching for new music online.

I'd been told about her, of course---she was yet another artist on the ever-growing pile of Things I Really Have to Listen to When I'm not So Motherfucking Busy or Distracted.

I typed "Morgan Grace" into Google, and voila---there was her MySpace page, featuring a couple of finished recordings and a handful of demo tracks.

I let MySpace randomly pick the first selection, and it was a track titled "Eyes in the Back of My Head."

To say that I was shocked is an understatement. I don't know what I was expecting, but the song that emerged from my speakers was like a warm breath of billowing, aching fog...made all the more perfect and painful because you can't quite touch it.

I've been lured in before by a groundbreaking single, only to experience disappointment with the follow-ups, so it was with some trepidation that I clicked on the next song, "Valentine," which was apparently posted just a few days ago.

And that, my friends, was that.

"Valentine" is about as flawless as pop songs get---a driving, seemingly effortless rhythm, an immediately memorable hook, and a melody so perfect that it's both instantly familiar and dazzlingly new. And it's a demo. A well-done demo, to be sure, but it's not even a finished recording and it's better than half the crap currently filling the Portland airwaves.

I spent the next few minutes tracking down her two full-lengths, The Rules of Dating and The Sound of Something Breaking. They run the gamut, from heartbreaking songs of loss and mistreatment to full-tilt, bravado-soaked rave-ups.

What's most important about these songs (and her others; with two LPs and a fistful of demos, she's clearly got something to say) is that they're not just a vehicle for self-aggrandizement and free drinks. She's clearly someone whose life and work have been touched by music, and this is What She Does. I don't think there's any choice in the matter. Just as writers must write and painters must paint, the inescapable conclusion is that Morgan Grace must make music. It's the language she speaks...maybe the one she speaks best.

I say all this as someone who has shared perhaps fifteen words total with Morgan. I have no vested interest in her career, fame, or financial success. But, like all of us, I do have a vested interest in music. It's what brings us together...while easing the pain of solitude. It makes us feel normal when we've gone mad, and makes us crazy when we've gotten too complacent.

It's around every corner and lurking in every shadow. Some of those nooks and crannies are full of miraculous surprises---songs and sounds just waiting to be discovered. I'm glad I discovered Morgan. I wish I'd done so sooner. I wish there were more hours in the day, more days in the week, and simply more time for doing nothing but listening. - Rick Emerson

"Valentine release interview"

Newly solo Portland artist Morgan Grace releases her third album, Valentine, this Sunday—intimate and darkly-beautiful indie ballads that indulge formerly restrained songwriting talents. WW sat down with the local chanteuse to discuss American Idol (Underground), recovering rockerdom and the benefits of bedroom recordings.

WW: Where did you record the album?
Morgan Grace: In my living room. Self-produced with a stolen copy of Cakewalk. Self-released. Well, Lady Lush Records—which is pretty much me in my bedroom on my laptop. Our minutiae of success is nearly unmentionable. Of Lady Lush, that is. This album’s a total testament to what DIY’s capable of.

New direction?
Yeah, it’s sort of a new direction. I parted ways with Sam Henry [of Wipers fame]. We’re still friends and everything, but I was really frustrated the last couple years always trying to write music for the bands I played in. I was a solo act for a looong time, just playing solo acoustic, and, around 2003, I figured out you can get a lot more attention if you have a band and if you dress and act like a big slut—so I did that for a few years. Then, I just got really tired writing for a band, especially a trio, cause not every song I write is going to translate to a heavy rock trio thing. Me and Sam had a falling out in October, and I started demo-ing all these songs. First on this crappy 8-track, and, then, eventually, after Idol hit, I upgraded with some nice microphones and everything. The rest is history.

Explain how the American Idol Underground contest came about?
Well, number one—I’m a big fucking dork. I entered the thing for $25, uploaded my song and kinda forgot about it. I uploaded two songs – one in the rock category which tanked and “Rules Of Dating” in the pop category which was a big hit on the site. I’d get these weekly chart reports saying ‘you’re 77 out of 1,300′ and, then, all of a sudden, ‘you’re like number 8 out of 2,000′ and I just consistently stayed in the top ten. Round two was the voting round, and I hit up every person I knew. I’d run into people I know, total hardcore punk-rockers that were like ‘this is the lamest thing I’ve ever done and I’m doing it for you’. It was adorable, it was awesome, and, turned out, I won. I won ten grand and a bunch of cool shit. I also won a duplication package so I was able to press my first album for real instead of just burning copies at Kinko’s. I also won a really nice condenser microphone. I bought a two thousand dollar Gretsch and a nice Musicman amp. It set me up for a while.

And publicity?
Strangely, no. It was actually just affiliated with American Idol, it was American Idol Underground, and, I don’t know what happened, but they lost their affiliation. I logged in to check, and it’s now called Artist Underground and the prize packages were, like, karaoke equipment and free subscriptions to Billboard. So they’re not…succeeding. Nothing really came of it aside from the prizes—and I did get an interview in, like, American Idol proper magazine. The issue that I was in had Katharine McPhee, the season five runner-up, on the cover, so that’s kinda cool. SOO DORKY, but an absolute Godsend.

This album’s all me. I recorded it, I played drums, bass, guitar, sang—everything is me. Sam plays drums on one track, but, other than that, it’s my vision. It was a very, very cool process. Some songs came about literally just as I was watching tv, sitting on the couch, watching the Kardashians or some shit, and I pick up my guitar and go to the computer and just let the momentum take me to the finishing of the song. Awesome, you know. Each of the ten tracks is just inspiration seen through from beginning to end.

And what was that vision?
The songs are mostly about love, I suppose—one muse in particular that really struck a chord in me the past year, almost every song is about him. It’s a lot more personal, even down to the vibe of recording because I wasn’t in a studio surrounded by people I don’t know that well—I was in my bedroom up til four in the morning laying down vocals all by myself. The recording is obviously only going to capture what’s there, and if that’s someone themselves deeply embedded in the belly of inspiration and that moment…that’s what it felt like it captured. Just really dark and honest.

I think it sounds a lot more like the kind of album a songwriter would make than the kind of album a band would make. The last album I wanted to sound like a rock band and, with the help of Sam Henry and Howard Gee, we translated all my songs to the rock format—heavy drums, heavy bass, heavy guitar. I mixed this new one by myself, and I didn’t have to accommodate a drummer or a bass player saying more drums or more bass. I had people that I would send these demos out to and the most common criticism was: ‘turn the vocals up!’

My voice is kinda high and sweet. It’s nice that I don’t have a rock band to try and be heard over. I don’t have a rock voice. I’m not a growly, yelly sort of singer. I sing in my high voice a lot which doesn’t project to be heard over a loud rhythm section. For a long time, I was afraid to play beautiful songs because you get a lot of rock shows where we were opening for Dead Moon or Hell’s Belles where you have to deliver the fucking R A W K, and, if you don’t, people aren’t going to like it From a songwriting point of view, that’s kinda frustrating because there was only this small window of my repertoire that I brought to the band. Now, I have a small rotating community of players that I recruit for shows as I need to. The CD release show’s going to be half solo, and half with Michael Carothers and Sam Henry.

We’re actually playing for 2,000 teenage girls at the convention center. It’s for an organization called Girls Incorporated. It’s just this weird thing. I contributed a track to the Deep Roots project this year. It’s a non-profit, this is their tenth or eleventh year, and they’ve had so many musicians—Stephanie Schneiderman, Lewi Longmire, Richmond Fontaine, all sorts of people. They team with the high schools or organizations like Girls Inc., get kids to write lyrics, they hook them up with local musicians who write the music, and they’re doing the release as part of an annual summit—I was told there’s going to be 1,500 to 2,000 screaming girls. I’m going to pretend I’m Frank Sinatra. Should be fun.

How were the lyrics?
It was a little hard to connect with them because I’m always coming from this place of darkness and tragedy and her lyrics were actually really inspirational—it took me fucking forever to get into that happy mindset…I ended up sounding like Avril Lavigne.

Did it make you happy? Temporarily?
I don’t think it’s possible. Not for this jaded songwriter, anyways. - Willamette Week 2008

"Rules of Dating Reissue Interview"

Morgan Grace claims to “epitomize independent,” which makes her a far-from-obvious choice for an American Idol contest. But a chance MySpace visit and one good pop song earned her just such a title—and 10 grand, to boot.

“There was a thing on MySpace where normally it would be like, ‘Shave her legs and win a free iPod!’” Grace explains, “But it said, ‘American Idol Underground, upload your songs.’ So I [did].” Then, last August, the local rocker’s “The Rules of Dating”—a “teenybopper” tune advising listeners how not to scare off a man—won her $10,000 and the title of first place in the online music community’s songwriting contest.

Feeling as if the heavens parted just for her—much like she describes receiving her first nylon-string guitar on Christmas, 1989—Grace used an AIU-issued voucher to press 1,000 more copies of her 2003 debut, The Rules of Dating. She wanted to give the title, winning track its due, and she included a few previously unreleased demos (and a track of her talking with Def Leppard on Rockline) to sweeten the pot.

When asked to describe her competition during our afternoon meeting at the Green Room, Grace says, “This will be an exercise in diplomacy: ’The Rules of Dating’ is trite, but it has a certain charm. It’s super lo-fi, not L.A.-slick, polished perfection, which is where everything else was coming from.” And, oddly enough, the 29-year-old says, “There was no promise of any kind of major label…and all of the prizes were totally geared toward helping me stay independent, [which was] great. Pay me and leave me alone.”

The accomplishment Grace is most proud of, though, is quitting alcohol. And music played a part in that, as well. She says of longtime drummer Sam Henry (the Wipers, I Can Lick Any SOB in the House): “We met in 2004…I quit drinking in 2004, and he was just getting clean and sober himself, [which] made us fast friends. I call everything before that the ‘B.S.’ era, you know, ‘Before Sam.’ Back when I sucked, back when I was a drunken hag.”

Grace mentions that she and Henry also come from the same “weird place of having this total love for punk rock and this total passion for jazz. Rocking and swinging at the same time,” ponders Grace, “it’s a feat.” The striking brunette says of her band (which is currently rounded out by bassist Allen Hunter of the Eels): “We don’t really fit anywhere. We’ve played dirty punk shows with Dead Moon, and the first thing I ever did was on Hush Records. So, whatever.”

After operating for years as what she calls “a shit-talking, confrontational, nightmare of a person,” Grace is happy to be working on new, deeper material for her third full-length, Eyes In the Back of My Head. Over a nonalcoholic beer and several hand-rolled cigarettes, Grace—who cites the Go-Gos and Glenn Danzig as equal influences—sums up her career as only she can: “It’s a lot cooler to write a song about a painful experience than it is to punch somebody in the face—which, I’ve done that, too. Thank God for music.” - Willamette Week 2007

"The Sound of Stereotypes Breaking"

Morgan Grace plays a mean guitar and she writes songs that range from angry rock to smoky jazz to beguiling pop. She also happens to be a woman, but that’s beside the point.

All you really need to know is that she kicks ass. Everything else is just details and lazy writing.

“I wish that not so much attention would be placed on gender,” she says. “We’re not all trying to be Joan Jett, P.J. Harvey, or Liz Phair.”

Grace is referring to the tendency of music critics to attempt to squeeze every woman performer they see into Jett’s leather pants, while at the same time making very explicit that they’ll never quite fill them.

Maybe it’s because women rock stars are a somewhat rare breed compared to their male counterparts, and the unimaginative are forced to draw on the handful of comparisons they can summon to summarize new female artists. Grace doesn’t really care. She just wants it to stop.

“I think as a songwriter, I take a lot of liberties with genre,” she says. “I can write whatever the hell I want to.”

Evidently her commitment to defying the stifling categories that many modern rock acts wear like bling of honor has paid off. In August, she took first place in American Idol Underground, an online competition where more than 600 songs vied for $10,000 in cash and a comprehensive CD pressing package.

Grace’s winning song “The Rules of Dating,” a cynical slice of rock, serves up lyrics such as:

“Rule number three, take it from me, don't drink too much/it only leads to saying all those stupid things that make you cringe the next day/Rule number four, try not to stalk him anymore, it only pushes him away and leads to desperation just like saying/ Please don’t go away, I would never be the same if you went away.”

Many of her songs take conventional pop and rock song topics — love, loss, sex, drinking, death — and give them a subversive twist that renders the original subject matter, if not a moot point, at least one that only begins to explain the complexity of human interaction. Just as no two relationships are exactly alike, in a perfect world, no two songs about relationships would portray love, or the fallout from it, in the same way.

“I don’t use the same rocker girl approach,” Grace says of the sexploitive tactics she might have initially tapped into to help make a name for herself on the Portland music circuit. “Now I just try to sell my music.”

It’s been a long journey to this point for Grace, who spent her early years living in Sweet Home listening to Motley Crue and Def Lepard before moving to Corvallis when she was in middle school. While attending Highland View and Corvallis High School — and listening to The Cure, The Misfits and Bikini Kill — she studied guitar and began to perform at local venues such as the Jackson Street Juicebar and Lakepark Rollerskating Rink.

Playing with her brother, Peter, and a rotating group of other area musicians in bands such as Chaotic Order and Dead Like Elvis, she still recalls the simple joy of printing up her own flyers advertising 50-cent cover charges.

“Living in Corvallis was great,” she says. “That was before that huge wave of neo-punk really hit.”

In those days, letting your freak flag fly was both fun and easy, she recalls. MTV and other media outlets hadn’t saturated communities across America with faux-punk rock styles mass-marketed at a Hot Topic in a mall near you.

“In those days, everything was word of mouth. You’d literally knock on people’s doors on your way to the show.”

In 1995, she moved to Portland with an acoustic guitar and a bag of songs with the idea of performing solo shows in coffee shops. Eventually she traded in her acoustic for an electric and formed the band The Suicide Race with her brother. A few years back, that band gave way to her most recent group, which features Sam Henry, former drummer for legendary Northwest proto-grunge group The Wipers.

Before recording her most recent album, “The Sound of Something Breaking,” in late 2004 and early 2005, Grace came to the realization that she was drinking entirely too much, and quit in August 2004. Transforming herself from a self-described “wretched drunk” to a responsible student and purveyor of the great musical tradition was no easy task, but by immersing herself in the recording of the album, she simultaneously got clean and created an indelible work of confessional rock therapy.

“Right now, I’m finding the places life takes you when you’re leaving your 20s and partying behind,” she says of her new direction, which includes studying classical guitar at Portland State University. These days, she’s listening to everything from jazz to classic punk rock, and it shows in the array of songs on “The Sound of Something Breaking.”

She also continues to kick out blistering live sets at such venues as The Laurelthirst, the Doug Fir Lounge and ACME with both her regular band and Gimme An X: A Tribute to X.

She recently learned that her band will open up for Exene Cervenka, John Doe’s powerful partner in X, and her band the Original Sinners at Dante’s Inferno.

“I think it’s going to be like being on another planet,” she says of sharing the stage with one of her heroes.

Right now, Grace is in the midst of writing songs for her next album, which will be produced with the funds she won in the American Idol Underground competition. Even though she’s been creating music for roughly 15 years, the process remains a mystery to her.

“Sometimes I wonder where a song came from,” she says. “You get into a weird, meditative blackout.” Still, she doesn't seem any more eager to unravel this mystery than that of the relationships she explores in her songs. “I try to acknowledge the rhythm of creativity.”

Along with that, she tries to keep alive the simple, joyous grass-roots spirit of playing music even in an age where the Internet connects us and isolates us from one another all at the same time. While she appreciates the opportunity afforded her by her recent title, she also thinks music is best experienced live.

“Some of the best things about music are only going to be present face to face,” she says.

And if you’re lucky enough to catch one of her concerts, just remember one thing. Don’t call her Joan. --Jake Tenpas, Gazette Times Entertainer Corvallis Oregon - Gazette Times 2006

""Valentine" review on NPR"

Morgan Grace has been releasing solo albums since 2003, but she didn't catch her "break" until 2006, when her song "The Rules of Dating" won a songwriting award via American Idol Underground (now Artist Underground, a Web site geared toward getting exposure for independent artists). Grace submitted the song on a whim, and the track won her $10,000 and recording equipment, with which she put together a home recording studio. Valentine is Grace's first album produced with the spoils of her victory, and the disc finds the singer-songwriter showing flashes of gutsy Liz Phair-flair, coupled with the vocal talent of a jazz singer.

The album's first four tracks find Grace at her best. "Eyes in the Back of My Head" shows off Grace's beautiful, whispery vocals over a simple acoustic guitar, sounding like a bedroom diary reading. "Her Roses" addresses a suicide, and Grace's frank, deadpan delivery lends the song a chilling honesty. "Valentine" is a wonderfully mopey broken-heart song that would fit perfectly in a 1980s Molly Ringwald movie (see Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club). "Keep It Loose" mixes gritty punk chords and wah-wah guitars for a funky sound that lives up to its title.

Valentine marks Grace's first true solo album; she's worked previously with drummer Sam Henry and as a member of the girl group Kleveland. Henry chips in on one drum track, but otherwise, Grace played and recorded every instrument herself. As a debut the disc shows a great deal of promise. - NPR Second Stage

"A genuinely rewarding listen"

“Her press, her reputation, and her performances all peg Morgan Grace as a foulmouthed rock-'n'-roll harlot, which is why actual albums are so useful. Grace's second release, The Sound of Something Breaking, reveals an incisive songwriter none too afraid of the wow chorus and a theatrical, helplessly feminine voice more Juliana Hatfield than raunch queen… Morgan Grace is also a band that sees Portland punk icons micromanage the rhythm section as dynamics shift effortlessly from tweaked cabaret to '80s indie riffage. It's a genuinely rewarding listen.�- Jay Horton/Willamette Week - Willamette Week

"Punk influenced New Wave"

Punk influenced New Wave and Rock never seem to go away and Morgan Grace is one of the reasons that makes me happy. The Sound of Something Breaking is part Siouxie and the Banshees, part X, part Demented Are Go, and part, well, part Morgan Grace.

"Thin Lizzy" kicks off the album in riotous way and at 2:43 it wastes no time getting to the point. As a matter of fact, the first half of this album follows much the same formula, which is as much desirable as it is undesirable really. Regardless, the first half of this CD is fury of sound, it starts to stand out though with the haunting sound of "It's Only You". Grace will absolutely chill you on this twisted acoustic number. From there on out the album takes on a more rock oriented approach that, honestly, seems much better suited to Grace and her music. "Clean" is another standout in my opinion. The guitar work really creates a sort of controlled chaos around the songs skeleton that completely sucks you in.

Overall this is a good listen. You can definitely appreciate elements of the early songs but it's the album's second half that truly shines. Morgan Grace could very well be a rock act that you want to pay close attention to. Mark Fisher May 2006 -

"Crank it up"

Wow. This record is filled with punky jumps and starts and lyrics that will have your grandmother blushing.

Morgan Grace's voice is a blend of sultry and screaming with lots of 'come hither'. Or maybe I should say 'come here-go away'. Either way, it matches the music wonderfully.

This is another band that I know would be cool live.

The record gives it a slightly live feel, in that it's produced sort of lo-fi sounding. The only thing I would change is just to mix it higher (louder) in general. I had this playing on rotation with a bunch of other records and it was much quieter volume-wise than the other things I had in there, even though it is much louder in style. But if you're listening to it all on it's own, it will sound just fine, just crank it up. Or better yet, use those headphones!

If you're looking for something to party to, you've found it in Morgan Grace's latest. Amy Lotsberg May 2006 -

"Ice Princess in Leather"

On her debut, Morgan Grace played vulnerable…But it was all an act. On her newest release The Sound Of Something Breaking with the help of the sonic splenetic assault of her band which includes the legendary Sam Henry (the Wipers, Napalm Beach) Morgan shows her true self as the ice princess in leather, who would cut you as soon as look at you. - Pabst Blue Ribbon “Music of the Great Northwest� Ad May 2005

"A Pop gem"

Using scorn as a subtext Morgan Grace funnels her seething contempt for the opposite sex into vitriolic punk pop songs that leave no doubt that the other shoe is about to drop. It appears that her guard is never down, and on the rare occasion that it is, she can parlay it into a song like The Rules of Dating , a pop gem that is a staggering lament about showing your cards too soon. - Pabst Blue Ribbon “Music of the Great Northwest� Ad April 2004 -


2008 - Valentine EP
2007 - The Rules of Dating reissue w/ bonus tracks (Lady Lush Records)
2005 - The Sound of Something Breaking (Lady Lush Records)
2003 - The Rules of Dating (Lady Lush Records)
2000 - Going Down to the Carnival demo (Lady Lush Records)

2009 - Deeproots 12
2008 - DeepRoots 11
2006 - Jukebox Year Book
2006 - We Made This (Portland Collective)
2006 - Failing Records Compilation Vol II (Failing Records)
2004 - Lights Camera Refraction Compilation (Olympian Shadow Farm)
1998 - MASS (Hush Records)
1998 - More (Hush Records)

2008 - James Low - Blackguard's Waltz
2005 - Amoree Lovell - Six Sadistic Songs for Children (Self released)
2003 - Reclinerland - Ideal Home Music Library (HUSH Records)



"I was raised in a small town by two crazy alcoholics who one day took a break from beating the crap out of each other just long enough to buy me a nylon stringed acoustic guitar. I was 12. A year or so later I convinced my mom to pay for classical lessons and eventually I got an electric guitar too. I played a lot with my brother who had just gotten a drum kit and when I was 14 we played in a band with two other kids in front of our entire high school. When I was 15 I started trying out my super twisted songwriting on friends. I remember grabbing my acoustic saying "hey listen to this!" and I'd sing a song about killing my date on prom night for fresh blood. Pretty much all of the songs I wrote as a teenager were meant to be funny and to entertain. Over the years I think I've gradually become more comfortable with expressing my *ahem* feelings, but lyrics even now that aren't meant to be funny are still pretty dark, a theme that just suites me I suppose."

That was written to accompany Morgan Grace's first demo tape and, however much has changed in the past decade (a degree in classical guitar from Portland State, a flirtation with unadulterated rawk, first prize in the American Idol Underground competition), the spirit behind those words and her music, a restless garage melancholia, still endures.

Shortly after the release of her first, mostly-solo full-length release The Rules Of Dating in 2003, Grace put together a trio comprised of drummer Sam Henry (legendary punk drummer for underground icons The Wipers and Napalm Beach) and a succession of bassists that continuously performed around the northwest. Her second album, 2005's The Sound Of Something Breaking, was much more a full band project. She also sang the part of Exene Cervenka for two years in X Tribute band Gimme an X!, spent nine months on lead guitar with girl-rockers Kleveland, and was the subject of a documentary short.

In 2006, upon a whim, Grace entered the title track of her first record in the American Idol Underground competition and took first place in the pop category along with recording equipment and a five figure cash prize. The resulting windfall not only allowed Grace to properly release The Rules Of Dating (on her own Lady Lush Records) but to record and produce her third album, Valentine, entirely by herself (save one drumming track from Henry) without compromise or departure from that initial, singular vision.

Most recently Grace was named Best New Artist at the Portland Music Awards, and received an Honorable Mention from the BIllboard Song Contest for "Valentine". Her music has been featured on NPR's Second Stage program, and placed on Mtv, E! Network, AMC, and VH1. Her songs have been recorded by punk band The Decliners, and songwriter/producer Rob Daiker. In 2008 she was invited to New York to perform at the Williamsburg Live Songwriter Competition. She is scheduled to appear at the CMJ Music Marathon 2009.